Fountain of Youth

Lawrence Welk, Pete Fountain and Mardi Gras

The Lawrence Welk Show performs at the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans, c. 1958. Pete Fountain is in the middle of the trio, on the clarinet. Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Public Library.

Most people don’t think of Lawrence Welk and Mardi Gras as having much in common, but the two actually go hand-in-hand – or maybe that should be “clarinet-in-hand.” Because what the two share is one very particular
thing: the magical jazz music of Pete Fountain.

Pete Fountain was born in New Orleans in 1930, and by the age of 16 was playing jazz on his clarinet down on Bourbon Street. For the next 20 years, he played with numerous bands in New Orleans, some of them considered to be the best jazz players in the world. Then, in ’57, he was chosen to join “The Lawrence Welk Show.” For the following two years, Fountain was “the most famous jazz musician on television.”

After his time on television, Fountain returned to New Orleans and opened his own jazz club, but his music continued to spread beyond the French Quarter. Fountain has appeared on numerous television shows and specials, and has played for presidents and the pope. And then, of course, there are the 100-and-counting recordings of his music.

But in New Orleans, at Mardi Gras, Pete Fountain is most famous for his Half-Fast Walking Club. Started in 1961 over dinner at Frankie and Johnny’s, the first group consisted of 28 people and a three-piece band. In the 50 years since that inaugural walk, membership has swelled to around 250, with many more musicians and a few small floats.

But the route remains the same: an early morning start at Commander’s Palace, parading down St. Charles Avenue, and followed by meanderings through the French Quarter until the afternoon ends at the Riverfront Hilton, jazz music playing all the way.
 

You Might Also Like

Duty and The Beast

Benjamin Butler’s Occupation of New Orleans

The Wild West at the Time of Rex

Carnival’s formative years and the most dramatic period of the American West paralleled each other.

City planners: Let the Deutsches Haus Look German

Making the case for architecture that doesn't "mesh well" with its surroundings

Goliath Gipper

The world’s largest Ronald Reagan statue watches over Tammany Trace.

JULIA STREET WITH POYDRAS THE PARROT

THE PURSUIT TO ANSWER ETERNAL QUESTIONS

Add your comment:

Latest Posts

In Which Your Intrepid Reporter Moves and Eats at Mint

Eating at a place I’ve been meaning to visit for quite a while.

Tastes of Summer

Simple, fresh and local ingredients create the best treats of the season.

Strange, Wonderful and New Wines

New wines to try.

NOTMC scores with 'Travel and Leisure' distinction

An interview with Mark Romig, president and CEO of the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation (NOTMC)

City planners: Let the Deutsches Haus Look German

Making the case for architecture that doesn't "mesh well" with its surroundings